The official title of the USA Patriot Act (Act) is “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001[i].” The purpose of the Act is to deter and punish terrorist acts in the U.S. and around the world. It was enacted also to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes that include:
- Strengthening U.S. by measures to prevent, detect and prosecute international money laundering and financing of terrorism,
- Subjecting foreign jurisdictions, foreign financial institutions, and classes of international transactions or types of accounts that are susceptible to criminal abuse to special scrutiny,
- Requiring all appropriate elements of the financial services industry to report potential money laundering,
- Strengthening measures to prevent use of the U.S. financial system for personal gain by corrupt foreign officials and facilitate repatriation of stolen assets to the citizens of countries to whom such assets belong,
- Providing powers to federal officials to conduct surveillance within the U.S. for preventing terrorism and monitoring the activity of foreign intelligence agents[ii],
- Provides regulatory powers to the Secretary of the Treasury to combat corruption of the U.S. financial institutions for money laundering purposes[iii],
- Provides to close the borders of the U.S. to foreign terrorists and detain and remove the terrorists present in the country,
- Creates new crimes, penalties, and new procedural efficiencies for using against domestic and international terrorists.
The Act consists of ten titles. The Act provides a counterterrorism fund and increased funding for the FBI’s Technical Support Center. The Act also authorized the military to provide assistance in situations that involve weapons of mass destruction when requested by the Attorney General. The President’s authority with regard to cases in terrorism was also increased. The National Electronic Crime Task Force was also expanded. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Electronic Communication Privacy Act were amended by the Act[iv]. The Act expanded pen register and trap-and-trace authority and access to business records facilities of the surveillance agencies. Aliens who committed money laundering were prohibited from entering the U.S.
The Act also enhanced the surveillance procedures. The Act also greatly expands the authority to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to terrorism, and to investigate computer fraud and abuse offenses. Under the Act, government can view educational, library, medical and financial records without demonstrating evidence of commission of a crime. The government can also employ its newly acquired surveillance capabilities to review personal internet use. The Act allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share information obtained by means of the government’s enhanced surveillance capabilities.
The Act made amendments to the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 to improve the speedy provision of aid to families of public safety officers by expedited payments to officers or the families of officers. Under the changes, payments must be made no later than 30 days after the officer is injured or killed in the line of duty.
According to the Act, domestic terrorism also includes mass destruction, assassination, and kidnapping as a terrorist activity. Cyber terrorism is also included under the definition of terrorism. A number of penal measures were introduced in an attempt to prevent terrorist activities by amending the existing criminal statutes.
[i] 107 P.L. 56.
[ii] United States v. Abu-Jihaad, 531 F. Supp. 2d 299 (D. Conn. 2008).
[iii] 107 P.L. 56.
[iv] 50 USCS § 1801.